Kids and Tobacco

Article excerpt

President Clinton and the FDA think it's the federal role to keep tobacco away from kids. Not everyone agrees

There's little doubt in most people's minds that teen tobacco use is a problem. Smoking rates for high school students are up dramatically even though adult smoking has declined over the past four years. The same is true for chewing tobacco and snuff.

For many years, health organizations, parents, teachers, state and local governments, retailers and the tobacco industry have tried to stop teens from using tobacco. All states have laws banning cigarette sales to minors, but kids' smoking rates continue to climb.

In the midst of the presidential campaign, President Clinton signed a controversial executive order that puts tobacco under the regulatory control of the federal Food and Drug Administration. The order, put together a year ago by the IDA, launches a plan to cut teen smoking in half over the next seven years.

"Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man will be out of our children's reach forever," President Clinton said when announcing the new rule that wipes out free samples, billboard near schools and playgrounds, and tobacco advertising at sports events. The industry is prohibited from using color in any of its outdoor advertising, including billboards, bus signs and retail advertising. Cigarette ads running in magazines with "significant numbers" of teen readers must be black and white text only. Vending machines are banned anywhere young people can get to them. Photo IDs will be required to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products. Additionally, the rule makes the sale of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to anyone under the age of 18 a federal violation.

SHOULD THE FDA BE INVOLVED?

The White House and the FDA say that tobacco is a drug and that cigarettes and smokeless tobacco are the devices that deliver it. "Every single scientific and medical organization that has looked at it has concluded that nicotine is a highly addictive substance," says FDA chief David Kessler. Giving his agency the authority to regulate tobacco fulfills the president's health care objective to curb tobacco use among young people. The rules are aimed only at kids in hopes of cutting down the number of future smokers.

Some agree:

* Health groups say the rule's focus on industry and advertising come best from the federal level. Matthew Myers, executive vice president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, says it "sets a minimum standard for tobacco control around the nation and permits states and locals to pass strict enforcement measures to complement their own actions and enforce their own laws."

* Advertising restrictions on tobacco are impossible to deal with on the state level. The federal Cigarette Labeling and Education Act preempts states from regulating advertising within their own boundaries.

Others say no:

* Tobacco companies are opposed to the FDA rule and have filed lawsuits objecting to the agency's authority to regulate tobacco as a drug. The industry's primary fear is that the agency's effort to stop underage smoking will ultimately result in a total prohibition on tobacco.

* Tobacco-growing states express the same objections. Both North Carolina and Kentucky have joined court challenges to overturn the rule. North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt calls the new rules "nothing more than big government trying to regulate tobacco out of existence." Some 260,000 jobs depend on tobacco in his state where it is a $1 billion industry.

* The focus on kids smoking diverts attention, time and money from the more important issue of reducing overall tobacco use. "What youngsters hear is that kids shouldn't smoke, but if you want to look and act like an adult, do it," says California's leading voice against tobacco, Professor Stanton Glantz of the University of California at San Francisco.

SHOULD CONGRESS BE IN CHARGE?

Congress is already involved in the effort to stop kids from smoking. …